It’s the afternoon in Portland, Oregon on May 9, 2020. Out on our front deck, it’s 29c/84f while the sun skulks behind cloud cover. Frankly, this weather is a bit ridiculous for this time of year.
Meanwhile, everything else in the world continues to happen. I have to admit, it’s hard to decide whether I should write here about The Current Situation, or whether I should try to ignore The Current Situation and just write about whatever because everyone is living through The Current Situation and maybe we just need a break from it.
But we can’t have a break from it, can we.
I have tried to write this episode at least four times; the last newsletter episode was back on March 20. It might not make that much difference to you, but I’ve been trying super hard to just feel secure in knowing that it’s okay to write when I have the space to write.
It’s also been hard trying to keep track of the things that have caught my attention and figure out whether what caught my attention at the time is still interesting, useful or relevant mere days later, never mind weeks. Who knows, anymore? I suppose all any of us can do is try and see what happens.
Look, some of these things are going to be COVID-19 related. I’m sorry. It feels super weird to include them, as if I’m contributing to some sort of psychological pollution. At the same time, they did catch my attention. Again, just imagine me shrugging, with a somewhat pained face.
I started something several thousand years ago grabbing screenshots of government COVID-19 websites which of course led to trying to figure out how to automate the process, using something like webkit2png. Well, I got distracted and life continued to happen, but I did notice this super intriguing URL-to-SVG webservice.
If you have a few Raspberry Pis that you don’t know what to do with, you could always put together a Redundant Array of Inexpensive System/370 Mainframes - Brian Roemmelle has been running a full System/370 mainframe on a $5 Raspberry Pi Zero for around 5 years. Just assume that I’m making a comment here in general about legacy mainframe applications that could fit on a laptop now fitting on a tiny, British toy computers.
Jet engines, but instead of combustion engines, microwaves creating plasma for thrust which honestly seems like a cool bit of science fiction instead of, again, gestures everywhere.
I can’t remember where I saw the source, but I think I read that the Bad Idea Factory has been responsible for funding a bunch of Pulitzer-winning work.
I will not pretend to understand how this neural network model is able to answer natural language questions about data encoded in tables and have to admit that this type of machine learning is rapidly approaching “I don’t know, magic?” in my head. Honestly, I don’t have the brain space to properly read the blog post so I’ll just say that I don’t quite understand how the learning is supervised (yes, I know it says weakly supervised), but also, how does the training data work?
Richard Parry makes amazing art out of exploded-view (focus-stacked?) photographs of things like games consoles and controllers. You can buy their art!
There are rumors that the next Apple Watch (the Series 6) will include “anxiety monitoring”. If you know me, then you’ll know that this rumor has itself made me anxious, and I’m simultaneously optimistic about the opportunity for devices to humanely and compassionately help with mental illness and also terrified about that help coming from a device wherein the Ring copy includes calls to action about CRUSHING IT THE NEXT DAY. Not least of which my belief that Apple Watch’s fitness ring mechanic and streaks can be actively harmful to mental health.
Speaking of streaks, I don’t think I’ve written about this yet, but I heard at this year’s IXDA that Duolingo’s best-selling and most profitable in-app purchase is the one that allows you to have a break and resume a streak, in which case let me be absolutely clear: this is fucking evil.
Scott Smith and Madeline Ashby have a new book coming out this September that I’m looking forward to: How To Future.
NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program announced a bunch of funding. The boring one that everyone knows about is the far-side lunar crater radio telescope (yawn), the more exciting ones to me are Extreme Metamaterial Solar Sails for Breakthrough Space Exploration and the Pulsed Plasma Rocket: Shielded, Fast Transits for Humans to Mars. This is of course a bunch of space cadet stuff. Right now it’s hard enough to survive on the planet on which we evolved and is our actual ecological niche, never mind in a totally alien inhospitable environment that’s more dangerous than Australia.
I am not playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons (yet?) but here’s a good blog post about how players have to buy improvements to the game’s user interface which, if you don’t read the blog post, those types of user interface improvements are known in the games industry as quality-of-life improvements.
Lastly, here’s an aside: our family has an Apple TV hooked up to our television. By default it’s hooked up to two different accounts: my iCloud account, and my iTunes account. The iCloud account connects it to things like iCloud Photos, the iTunes account connects it to things like TV and film purchases.
iCloud Photos means that I can create a photo album of photos of our family and share it with our extended family. It’s also a great screensaver. All good so far, right?
Turns out that being able to do that means having iCloud Photos turned on which these days means the account having access to pretty much every single photo I’ve ever taken. In practice, this means that anyone in our house who can use the Apple TV remote (insert your own opinion about the Apple TV remote) can head over to iCloud Photos and… look at all of my expense receipts, screenshots of websites, gifs, photos of IKEA product labels so we can find them in the pickup aisle and approximately three thousand photos of our kids’ feet or thumbs when they were toddlers and stole my phone to take pictures.
All of which is to say that I think the only workaround for this is to create a brand new iCloud account just for our television and then sharing specific albums to it. This is just like when I realized that I needed to create a specific Google account to use with the Apple TV’s YouTube app so the kids didn’t inadvertently, well, see anything at all on the approximately seventy gazillion Nazi Recruitment Channels.
Part of this has come up since eldest has started using an iPad pretty much every day for school: I could write what feels like twenty thousand words on how much of a complete mess family and child accounts are on iOS/iPadOS and Google, to the point that of course it’s clear nobody actually gives a shit and these issues don’t have any resources whatsoever. I mean, Amazon have only just gotten around to starting to roll out different accounts on the Amazon Prime video app.
Anyway. That’s a bunch of stuff that caught my attention. My right hand and shoulder aches and I desperately miss seeing my massage therapist because I’m sure my IT bands are now made of degenerate neutron star matter. I’d be lying if we haven’t been yelling at each other every single day, but then I’d also be lying if we also weren’t repairing multiple times every single day. I’m terrified about my three year old, who’s completely missing out on any of the social side of preschool.
I’m pretty sure I’m not getting on a plane again this year, if not for the next twelve months, unless there are truly extraordinary circumstances because my diabetes means I’m at high risk of complications.
I hate this, even when there are moments of brightness and most of all, I hate how this didn’t have to be the case. It didn’t have to be like this.
There’s a saying: nobody’s coming; it’s up to us. The nicer version is that everybody’s coming: it’s up to us. But today, right now, and probably every single day for the last three months, I’ve been disappointed and scared that even if we all came, there’s no substituting for competent leadership, and that’s even without the intentional policy.
How are you?